Throughout July we're going to present 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade deadline deal ever made by each team. We've covered the AL East, NL East and AL Central so far, and are now on the NL Central.
THE TEAM: Milwaukee Brewers
THE YEAR: 2008
THE SITUATION: After several years of growth for their young core, the Brewers had finally put themselves in position to end a 26-year postseason drought. On July 7, they were nine games over .500 and only four games behind the division-leading Chicago Cubs. However, the starting rotation desperately needed an upgrade. Yovani Gallardo suffered an early-season injury, and the back end of the rotation was filled with the likes of Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra and Seth McClung.
THE TRADE: The Brewers had developed a reputation among the fan base as a farm system for big-market organizations. They didn't bring in elite talent. Instead, they bartered it away to maintain their small payroll. But on July 7, general manager Doug Melvin signaled to the fans and the broader baseball landscape that the Brewers were ready to seriously compete on the national stage. He acquired the best player available on the trade market, left-hander CC Sabathia, in exchange for a package of prospects headlined by first baseman Matt LaPorta (the seventh overall draft pick in 2007). The Brewers also sent outfielder Michael Brantley, left-hander Zach Jackson and right-hander Rob Bryson to Cleveland.
THE AFTERMATH: It's almost impossible to overstate the impact Sabathia had on the Brewers in the second half of the 2008 season. It felt as if he single-handedly carried the team to the postseason. He compiled a 1.65 ERA in 130.2 innings from July 8 through the end of the season. That included seven complete games, three shutouts and three starts on just three days' rest. He also nearly threw a no-hitter against the Pirates on Aug. 31, as the Pirates' only hit came on a controversial non-error on an infield single by Andy LaRoche that was mishandled by Sabathia just to the left of the pitcher's mound. It's still a sore spot among Brewers fans, some of whom still claim it should have been the second no-hitter in franchise history.
On the Indians' end of the trade, the package received for Sabathia can be seen as nothing but a disappointment. LaPorta has spent parts of four seasons in the big leagues, but he owns a career .238/.301/.393 slash line and has a negative career WAR. While Brantley has been a solid contributor for the Indians, he's not the type of elite player an organization strives to acquire in such a high-profile trade.
The Brewers won this trade in every conceivable fashion. They acquired a stud pitcher who carried them to the postseason for the first time in 26 years. The trade served as a wonderful PR move for the organization, and their attendance has since flourished. The Brewers also didn't give up anything significant in the trade, which is even more significant for a small-market organization. Although it's rare a half-season rental goes down as one of the best trades in franchise history, Doug Melvin and the Brewers authored something special at the deadline in July 2008.
--J.P. Breen, Disciples of Uecker